Brown Widow Spider

Brown Widow Spider

Quick Overview

Size: ½” -2” 

Characteristics:

Brown widow spiders have bulbous abdomens with an hourglass shape on the abdomen’s underside. These hourglasses tend to be orange, with the rest of the body being a dark to pale brown.

Habitat:

The brown widow spider originated in Africa but has since moved east to become a tropical and subtropical species in places like Florida, Hawaii, the Caribbean, and more. It builds its web in secluded, protected sites around homes and wooded areas. 

Behavior:

Brown widow spiders are not aggressive, usually only biting after being threatened. They typically nest and hunt in dark, undisturbed areas. 

What does a brown widow spider look like?

Most of us are already aware of the infamous black widow spider, but here in Florida, the brown widow spider is another one to know about. It has a mottled tan and brown coloration with black accents. Mature females have additional stripes. 

These spiders, like black widows, do have an hourglass shape, but it’s usually an orange color rather than the vivid red. It looks quite similar to an immature black widow spider, which can make identification tricky. 

What is the habitat of a brown widow in Florida?

This spider prefers sites that are secluded and protected, such as wooded areas and dense vegetation (particularly vegetation with branches). They are often found in empty buckets, mailboxes, beneath eaves, in storage closets and garages, and even in garbage cans. 

Some of these areas are locations that are a bit more exposed than the ones that more reclusive species, like black widows, would choose. Because of this, you’re more likely to encounter a brown widow spider in Florida than a black widow. 

What are the behaviors of a brown widow?

Brown widow spiders do not make symmetrical or funnel webs. Instead, they spin tangled, messy webs in corners, much like black widows and other related spiders. 

How dangerous is a brown widow?

Although you’re more likely to have a run-in with a brown widow spider than a black widow, the good news is that the venom is far less toxic. That’s not because the spider is less venomous – in fact, drop for drop, the toxicity is just as high. However, the difference is that brown widows have weaker bites and can’t inject quite as much venom at once. 

That’s not to say that the bites aren’t painful! Though they’re less dangerous, they can cause a painful local reaction. You will likely notice the initial bite and see a red mark with a puncture wound afterward.

What should I do if I’m bitten by a brown widow?

If you are bitten by a brown widow, it’s important that you see a doctor and bring a list of any symptoms along with a description of the spider itself. This will help the doctor ensure that you were not bitten by a more venomous species of spider. 

In the meantime, keep the area clean and dry and apply an ice pack to the area to reduce swelling. Keep it elevated if you can and consider applying an anti-itch cream to the bite to relieve some of the discomfort. 

Taxonomy:

Kingdom: Animalia 

Subkingdom: Bilateria 

Infrakingdom: Protostomia

Superphylum: Ecdysozoa 

Phylum: Arthropoda

Subphylum: Chelicerata

Class: Euchelicerata

Order: Araneae

Family: Theridiidae

Genus & species: Latrodectus geometricus

Brown Widow Facts and Myths

1. Fact: Brown widow spiders are less likely to bite than black widows.

Brown widow spiders tend to hang out in busier areas than black widow spiders, but they are also more likely to retreat than fight when they’re feeling threatened. 

2. Myth: You don’t need to see a doctor if you’re bitten by a brown widow spider.

It’s always a good idea to seek medical attention if you’re bitten by a spider. This is especially true if you’re very young, old, or are immune-compromised in any way. 

3. Myth: There’s no way to tell apart young black widow spiders and mature brown widows.

One way to tell the two apart is to find the egg sacs of brown widows – these are spherical in shape and covered in tiny spikes. 

4. Myth: Brown widow spiders are pushing black widows out of their habitats.

Brown widow populations have increased in many parts of the country, but more so in urban areas than rural ones. It’s too soon to tell if brown widows are outcompeting the more dangerous black widows. 

5. Fact: Brown widow spiders spread to new areas in a practice known as “ballooning.”

Something that makes brown widows hard to control is that young spiders release a small filament of silk that allows them to float through the air to another location on breezy days. They don’t just walk to new homes like other spider species!

Photo Credit: Mfield, Matthew Field, http://www.photography.mattfield.com, GFDL 1.2 http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html, via Wikimedia Commons

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